During the 2018 season, Clemson played a school-record 20 first-year freshmen over the course of 15 games.
It only took one game for the Tigers to break that record this season, with a total of 27 true freshmen playing in the season opener against Georgia Tech last Thursday night.
One frosh that saw significant action in the 52-14 win was highly touted wide receiver Joseph Ngata, whose first real game experience at Death Valley was even better than he imagined it would be during the recruiting process.
“I try not to be too emotional about it. I try to keep a level head,” Ngata said calmly this week. “But it was more than I really expected.”
Ngata was on the field for 31 snaps and recorded his first career reception with a 12-yard catch and run in the third quarter. The Folsom, California native also returned two kickoffs for 50 yards, including a 32-yard return on the opening kickoff.
Despite the big stage — playing in front of nearly 80,000 fans in primetime on the new ACC Network — Ngata’s mindset helped him stay calm and shake off any jitters.
“Coach (Jeff) Scott and Coach (Dabo) Swinney prepared me for that situation,” he said. “Coach Swinney explained it to be ‘just make it to seem as practice. If you practice hard, it’s going to be like how it is in the game.’ So, I wasn’t really nervous. There’s not a lot of emotion going through when the ball’s in your hands.”
Ngata impressed Swinney and Clemson’s staff throughout fall camp with not only his physical size (6-4, 218), but also his ability and knowledge of the game.
The former five-star prospect also drew high marks for his relentless work ethic, which Ngata has derived from his mother and father along with his own self-motivation.
“I’d say it comes from my parents and also within myself just knowing that a lot of people sacrificed a lot to see me here today,” Ngata said. “So, I can’t take that for granted.”
Ngata knows his family and others back home in Cali are counting on him to make the most of his opportunity at Clemson, and that drives him to be the best he can be on and off the field.
“It’s just who I am,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got to work hard. There’s a lot of people that sacrificed a lot for me, so there’s no reason I should not be going hard.”
Ngata pointed out that his parents sending him to a school more than 2,600 miles away from his hometown was a big sacrifice in and of itself.
In fact, Ngata admits his parents had some reservations about allowing their son to continue his academic and athletic career all the way across the country. However, that all changed when they accompanied him on a visit to Clemson during the recruiting process.
“At first, it was like that,” he said. “But they came down here with me and they saw everything, and they were ‘All In’ I could say.”
Ngata is “All In” as well and willing to do anything he can to help the Tigers win games in 2019.
“I’m just ready to do whatever the team needs me to do,” he said, “So, I’ll do whatever – I’ll play linebacker, I’ll play D-end, I’ll play whatever (smiling).”
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